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Colt Designs Fed U.S. Love Affair With Guns: Lewis Lapham

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham, of "Lapham's Quarterly," in New York. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Expelled from Amherst Academy for pranks, Samuel Colt always enjoyed drinking and carousing. When he needed money, he became Dr. Coult, demonstrating the virtues of laughing gas and explosives.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

He was also a clever and determined inventor, making strides in pistol design so a gun would fire multiple times without reloading. As an industrialist, Colt was the first to use an assembly line to put together a revolver with interchangeable parts.

Not averse to bribery, lobbying, product placement and mass marketing, whatever it took, Colt made Americans love firearms: The 1849 .31-caliber pocket pistol sold 325,000 units.

When he died in 1862, Colt’s estate was valued at $15 million (more than $350 million today). The Colt family sold the company, which is still in business, with more than 30 million pistols, revolvers and rifles produced since it was founded.

I spoke with Charles Morris, author of “The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution,” on the following topics:

1. Strivers on Steroids

2. Western Steam Boat

3. Mixed Economy

4. Enterprising Cincinnati

5. Samuel Colt

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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